These strategies for stress relief will help you reset your mood at work immediately.

By Yolanda Wikiel
Updated September 03, 2019
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Two-thirds of Americans point to their job as a main source of anxiety, but getting all worked up at work shouldn’t be your norm. Try these six science-backed strategies to feel cool, calm, and happy ASAP, no matter where you are.

See stress as a good thing.

Anxiety is a form of energy you can harness to work for you, says Ian Robertson, PhD, clinical psychologist, cognitive neuroscientist, and author of The Stress Test: How Pressure Can Make You Stronger and Sharper (from $10; amazon.com). Re-frame a stressful situation as a challenge instead of a threat, and use those intense feelings to energize rather than hinder you. In other words, go into that big meeting determined to impress your boss, not worried she’ll fire you. Stress causes the brain to release the chemical noradrenaline, says Robertson, and if you think bad things might happen, you’ll get too much of the chemical, which could make you more likely to clam up or say the wrong thing. If you’re excited to perform, you’ll reap the benefits of the arousal and be in a better position to do well.

Let email pile up.

Resist the temptation to respond to each and every ping. In a University of British Columbia study, people who constantly checked email felt significantly more stressed than those who only looked at their inboxes three times a day. If possible, batch-process messages in 30-minute sessions in the morning, afternoon, and evening, then turn off pesky alerts to free up the rest of the day, says Peter Bregman, CEO of Bregman Partners, a national consulting group, and author of Leading with Emotional Courage (from $12; amazon.com). While you’re at it, disable that anxiety-inducing badge on your mail app that shows how many unread emails you have.

Eliminate other interruptions, too.

Open floor plans are designed to encourage collaboration, but they may also amplify the hubbub around you. “Screening out irrelevant commotion while trying to concentrate consumes a lot of mental energy,” says Robertson. Listen to white noise over headphones, or duck into a conference room for an hour or two of quiet during particularly chatty times of day (like lunch or Friday afternoons). Another common distraction: Sitting with your back to a door or a hallway may cause you to instinctively turn around whenever someone passes. “It’s an uncomfortable feeling not to know what’s behind you,” says Jeanette Bronée, a health coach and author in New York City. “Position a mirror in your work space so you can see at a glance what’s going on.”

Fidget productively.

Find yourself wringing your hands or tapping your fingers when the pressure is on? Give yourself a mood and confidence boost by swapping those habits for one that’s actually helpful, says Robertson. He uses this technique before nerve-racking presentations: Gently squeeze your right hand for 45 seconds, release for 15 seconds, and repeat a few times. “You’ll activate the left frontal lobe of the brain, which helps you prepare for challenges,” he says.

Tidy your desk.

Studies show that messy spaces can majorly cramp our vibe. A disorganized office or cubicle can limit our ability to focus, and even looking at clutter can spark the body’s production of stress hormones. “We experience stress when there are aspects of a situation that seem out of our control,” says Sharon Melnick, PhD, author of Success Under Stress ($13; amazon.com). “So the more you can control, the less anxiety you’ll feel.” (And hey, sometimes a straightened-up desk is victory enough.) For good measure, add a succulent or two. Research from Washington State University in Pullman found that indoor plants reduce blood pressure and increase productivity.

RELATED: Low Maintenance Indoor Plants

Make break time sacred.

The adrenaline rush of busyness can compel you to power through lunch, but even if you’re literally putting out fires, you deserve a time-out. “We are designed to function on survival mode for short spurts, but when this fight-or-flight reaction is a constant way of living, stress becomes chronic,” says Bronée. The ideal break schedule, says Melnick, is 90 minutes of concentration followed by a brief period of recovery: “Pausing to take a few meditative breaths or a lap around the floor aids in optimal performance and helps clear away stress hormones built up from intense focus.” Even a little Candy Crush can make you more chill. A recent study from the University of Central Florida in Orlando discovered that a few minutes of playing video games can be enough to lower workplace stress.